Safety Second

XXDos Equis’ “The World’s Most Interesting Man” is a bit of marketing genius. Clever, irreverent, humorous, quotable, even memeable. I’m a fan. One of his quotes is “Safety third.” My husband and I adopted this phrase to sum up our penchant for adventure (Climbing atop unmonitored centuries-old ruins in Ireland! Jumping off a diving board made from a log into the Wisconsin River! Skydiving!). But, soon as we had kids we recognized the need to be more careful so we modified the phrase to “safety second.”

I understand the need for safety to stay alive, and my husband actually earns his living by enforcing fire safety regulations at government labs around the country, but I reject the notion of “safety first.” If we truly lived in a safety first world, America as we know it would not exist because Christopher Columbus never would have set sail. I am OK with living with a reasonable amount of risk, even as a parent.

Today I received my weekly email about my toddler’s development. This edition was all about playground safety. I read the advice in the email, scoffing and rolling my eyes at what I felt was insane advice. Allow me to now make fun of said advice.

Always stay close by as your toddler plays and follow these safety precautions:

Um, no I will not hover over my 2 year old as he plays. I will sit on a bench and watch from a distance. I will even watch him cross the expanse of the nearby soccer field before I run after him. Exploring a field of grass isn’t going to kill him…unless there is actually a soccer game going on.

  • Make sure your child uses toddler-safe swings (with close supervision)
    • Hilarious. My 2 year old started using “big boy” swings months ago. I was at the playground with my husband and toddler when the toddler asked his dad if he could try the big boy swing. I watched my husband plop him on it and I was about to get up and shout “He’s not ready!” when my husband started pushing him and my toddler held on and did just fine. I stared at my husband in disbelief and he looked at me and shrugged saying, “he’s been doing this for the last few weeks.” When my toddler thinks he is ready (within reason), even if I’m not, I will let him try something new. How else will he grow?
  • Check metal surfaces to make sure they aren’t hot enough to burn your child.
    • Actually, I’m OK with letting him check that for himself. “Hot” is one of the first words he learned and understood. If he does touch something that is too hot at the playground I’m confident that his reflexes and brain work so that 1. he’ll immediately let go of said object and 2. know not to touch it again. He isn’t stupid.
  • Avoid equipment like see-saws and jungle gyms, which—while tempting for toddlers—require more advanced motor skills than they possess.
    • We actually built an indoor jungle gym for him this past weekend. He is gifted physically, and part of me thinks that is because we’ve always let him explore the limits of his own body, even if this meant he fell on occasion. He knows what he can and cannot do and I’ve noticed he is intuitively careful with his body when exploring because he knows what it is like to fall.

And now for the really absurd stuff:

Before you let your toddler head off to explore and play, take a good look at the playground. Evaluate it for the following:

  • Points or corners that can cause injury.
    What? How is this even practical? Pointy things are everywhere, not just at the playground! I can’t keep him from them, I have to teach him how to handle them. I’m not going to hand him a pair of scissors obviously, but c’mon. This is crazy. If I ever saw a parent going around a playground checking the corners I’d think they were nuts!
  • Cargo nets or openings wide enough to stick heads or limbs through.
    Yep, have totally let my toddler play on those cool spider web net things. And, he was fine. I’ve even seen him climb the vertical ones. Again, how the heck will he learn without facing challenges? It isn’t like the nets he is on are higher than a few inches off the ground anyway.
  • Tripping hazards, such as ropes, cables, tree roots and rocks.
    What? No tree roots or rocks? Is this serious? Toddlers trip all the time, even on smooth surfaces! This piece of advice is irrational and delusional. What is this, The Giver? Exploring nature will always be worth it in my book. Always.
  • Equipment that is not secured to the ground.
    Ok, this one I get. Next time I see a free floating, levitating platform hovering a few feet off the ground we’ll steer clear of it.
  • A ground surface that is not soft enough to offer some cushioning.
    • See note above about toddlers tripping on smooth surfaces. My toddler has tripped over his own two feet on pavement, hardwood floors, and tiles. So far, he’s still intact.

The world is safer now than it has EVER been before, at least where I live in the well-to-do antiseptic suburbs of Illinois. You know your child best, but give your kid a little credit. I think as parents we often set the bar too low for our children. They are literally born to grow, explore, be curious, ask questions, experiment, test boundaries, even fail. Why would we ever want to stunt their progression? To me, that is just cruel. How else do we think skyscrapers eventually get built? Not by adults who never experienced risk as children.

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